Public’s paperwork burden is still overwhelming, report says

The public continues to be overwhelmed with government-related paperwork, despite a wave of e-government initiatives and two laws that aim to reduce such paperwork, according to a new report from the Office of Management and Budget.

In fiscal 2001, the public spent an estimated 7.65 billion "burden hours" responding to government requests for information, the report, "Managing Information Collection and Dissemination," said.

A burden hour is the measurement used by OMB to estimate the amount of time and expense it takes for people to fill out agency forms, reports and other types of paperwork for the government. The figure equated to almost 24 hours per household during fiscal 2001. The IRS accounted for about 80 percent of the governmentwide burden-hour estimate, due mainly to changes on the agency's tax forms, the report said. Burden hours totaled 7.4 billion hours in fiscal 2000, up from 7 billion in fiscal 1995.

"The American people are spending more time than ever before dealing with federal red tape," said Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator John Graham. OIRA oversees compliance with the 1980 and 1995 Paperwork Reduction Acts, which require agencies to reduce the public's paperwork burden. Before agencies can request paperwork from the public, they must get OIRA's approval.

As part of the development of its report, OMB asked all federal agencies to come up with at least two initiatives for reducing paperwork requirements and to submit regular progress reports to OIRA. At the Housing and Urban Development Department, for example, an online loan origination program is expected to streamline the agency's mortgage insurance application process.

OMB said the administration's focus on e-government projects and new guidelines on information quality will help the federal government better comply with paperwork reduction mandates. Last year, OMB issued guidelines that require agencies to make information quality a performance goal and to develop a review process to ensure the integrity of information before it is released.

"We're committed to eliminating paperwork that only burdens and doesn't benefit the public," Graham said.

Federal agencies reduced Paperwork Reduction Act violations in fiscal 2001 to 406, down from 487 violations the previous year.

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